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Exhumations

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By mistake, the body of a lady was interred in the wrong grave, namely, in a grave reserved for a married couple, of whom the wife's body had already been interred in the grave. The mistake only came to light when the husband who had reserved the grave died and arrangements were made for his interment with the remains of his wife. The husband's remains were temporarily interred in an unconsecrated grave. The Chancellor granted a faculty for the exhumation of the remains of the lady buried in the wrong grave, in order that they could be transferred to the grave where they should have been buried, so that the remains of the man could be exhumed and reinterred with the remains of his wife.

The Chancellor granted a faculty to authorise the exhumation of cremated remains, so that they could be reinterred in the same grave at a greater depth, in order to allow the interment above them of the cremated remains of another member of the family.

This is an anonymised judgment. The petitioner proposed to be buried in the same grave as her late sister and parents. However, when her sister's husband died, his cremated remains were interred in the same grave, notwithstanding that a granddaughter of the late sister had specifically asked the parish priest not to inter the husband's remains in the same grave, alleging that the husband had subjected her to repeated sexual abuse when she was young, and it would cause great distress to the family to have his remains in the same grave where the remains of some members of the family were already interred and where other members of the family wished their remains to be interred. The Chancellor decided that the continuing family distress which would be caused by allowing the husband's remains to be left in the grave amounted to exceptional circumstances justifying exhumation. He therefore granted a faculty for the exhumation of the husband's cremated remains and for reinterment of the remains in another churchyard.

The Ambassador of the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia petitioned the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Oxford for permission to exhume the remains of Queen Maria of Yugoslavia from the consecrated Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore for reinterment in the unconsecrated family crypt in St George’s Church, Oplenac, in the city of Topola, Serbia. Although a faculty would not normally be granted for exhumation where reinterment would not take place in consecrated ground, the Chancellor was satisfied that the remains would be reinterred in "a place of real permanence", namely the royal mausoleum in Serbia, and he accordingly granted a faculty.

The petitioner sought the exhumation of the cremated remains of her father, interred in 1977, in order to comply with the wish of her late mother, who died in 2013, that the ashes of both parents might be scattered together on the banks of the river Tyne in the village where the couple had met, courted and been married. The Chancellor determined that he was unable to grant a Faculty for two reasons: (1) beginning with the presumption that Christian burial should be regarded as final, and therefore exhumation should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances, the Court of Arches, in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002], expressly considered the case of a change of mind on the part of the relatives who had brought about the original interment and stated that this “should not be treated as an acceptable ground for authorising exhumation”; (2) where remains have been committed to the care of the Church, they should only be disturbed if the Court can be satisfied that appropriate arrangements are in place for the continuing protection of the remains.

The petitioner applied for permission to exhume the remains of her baby, who had died fifteen years previously aged 12 weeks, following an operation to repair a heart defect. At the time of the baby's death, the petitioner and her former partner had lived in Lancashire, where the baby had been buried, but the petitioner (and her former partner) now lived in Yorkshire. The petitioner claimed that owing to her state of health it was difficult to visit the grave in Lancashire. Her former partner objected to the proposed exhumation and became a party opponent. The Deputy Chancellor, after considering the decisions in Re Christ Church, Alsager [1999] Fam 142, Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299, and other exhumation cases, determined that moving the remains of the baby simply so that they were nearer to where the petitioner now lived was not an exceptional reason for authorising an exhumation and he accordingly refused to grant a faculty.

The cremated remains of the petitioner's parents were both buried in separate plots in the cemetery, her mother having died in 2006 and her father in 2015. Her mother's remains had been buried in the grave of her grandmother and her sister. The owner of the grave in which the petitioner's mother's remains were interred (the daughter of the sister) refused to allow the remains of the petitioner's father to be buried in the same plot as his wife, even though the he had expressed in his will a desire to be buried with his wife. The petitioner therefore sought to exhume the remains of her mother and have them reinterred in the grave of her father. Having considered the guidelines in Re Blagdon, as to the circumstance in which exhumation may be allowed (which the Chancellor regarded as non-exclusive), he determined that there were sufficient exceptional circumstances to justify the grant of a faculty to authorise the exhumation and reinterment.

A body had been interred in a grave reserved for someone else. The family which had reserved the grave applied for a faculty for exhumation of the body wrongly placed in the reserved grave. One of the two people for whom the grave was reserved was terminally ill. The Chancellor granted the faculty on the basis that there had been a genuine administrative error, which led to the interment in the grave already reserved.

The petitioners wished to exhume the cremated remains of their son and scatter them on a beach in South Wales. The Chancellor could find no special reason to justify the grant of a faculty.

A faculty was granted for exhumation of the remains of a stillborn child from Wandsworth Cemetery and re-interment in Winchester, where the parents now live. Per Petchey Ch.: "I will grant this petition because of the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Rees did not have a permanent home in Wandsworth at the time of the burial of their stillborn son and because of the tragic circumstances of that stillbirth, with which Mrs. Rees is still trying to come to terms. These reasons represent circumstances which make it appropriate to make an exception to the norm of Christian burial."